Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

A Letter From H. L. Ross

Page 246

I understand you are getting up a history of Menard and Mason counties. I thought I might be able to render you some assistance in getting up the history of Mason county, as there is probably few men now living who know as much about the history of Mason as myself.

Mason county was originally a part of Tazewell, and my father, O. M. Ross, in all probability, built the first house and ploughed the first land in the county. In 1821 he moved from St. Clair county to what is now Fulton county. In 1822 he built a house in Havana on the bank of the Illinois river, where he city of Havana now stands. At that time he established a ferry across the river. The nearest ferry on the south was at Beardstown and on the north at Peoria at Fort Clark. He engaged a man to build a house and run the ferry for him, and gave him one-half the proceeds and the use of twenty acres of land. At that time the land had not yet come into the market, but was government land, but in 1827 Ross entered one thousand acres of land at $1.25 per acre. The land lay up and down the river, including the land where Havana now stands. It also included the land where Bath stands. O. M. Ross moved from Fulton county to Havana in 1826 and built the Havana Hotel, and opened up a farm of two hundred acres east of Havana. The Indians had settled up and down the river in great numbers. Wigwams could be numbered by the hundreds. The squaws would cultivate a few patches of ground, which they would dig up and plant in corn, beans and other vegetables, while the Indians hunted and trapped. At that time all the county north of the Sangamon and south of the Mackinaw and east of the Illinois river for fifteen miles was a vast plain, where horses and droves of deer roamed at will. There were but two roads laid out then, one running from Havana to Springfield, which crossed the Sangamon at Miller's ferry, fifteen miles south of Havana. This road ran through Salem and Sangamontown. The other road crossed Salt Creek, and ran through Athens, and crossed the Sangamon four miles north of Springfield. In 1829 there was not a house between Miller's Ferry and Havana, nor between the ferry at Salt Creek and Havana. In 1831, John Mounts and John Yardly settled on the road leading from Havana to Miller's Ferry, not far from Crane Creek. Mounts settled on the west side and Yardly on the east side. Mounts built a mill on Crane Creek, which was the first mill in Mason county. The next mill was built by Pallard Simmons on Quiver Creek, five miles northeast of Havana. In 1838, this Simmons, who is the same man who lived near Salem in former years, on one occasion while there, met John Calhoun, the county surveyor. Calhoun informed Simmons that he had decided to appoint Lincoln as deputy surveyor, if he would accept the appointment. The next day Simmons went to Salem and inquired for Mr. Lincoln, and was told he was working in the woods. Simmons found him working at his old occupation making rails. They both sat down on a log and Simmons told Lincoln what Calhoun had said. Mr. Lincoln was surprised that Calhoun should appoint him his deputy, when he was a Henry Clay Whig and Calhoun was a Jackson Democrat, but Lincoln said that as soon as he got the rails made, he would go to Springfield and see Calhoun about it, so in a few days he walked to Springfield to see Mr. Calhoun and told him that he would accept the appointment if he had the assurance that it would not interfere in any way with his political obligations and that he might be permitted to express his opinions as freely as he chose. The assurance was given and he received the appointment.

The next man that settled on the road to Miller's Ferry was Gibson Garrett. He settled on the edge of the timber nine miles south of Havana, near where the village of Kilbourne stands.

The first settlers of Havana in 1830 were John Bash, Carle Armstrong, Sylvester Whipple, A. B. Shafer, Benjamin Hult, Bethilt Roberts, John Nettleman and Robert Corsea.

Nettleman was a Frenchman and ran a keel boat on the Illinois river for two years. In the spring of 1830 he piloted the steamboat Liberty from St. Louis to Peoria, which was the first boat that ran up the Illinois as far as Havana.

The Indians that first settled near Havana and up and down the river were friendly and appeared to want to live peaceably with the whites, if fairly treated, but if imposed on, would fight. They had several burying places on the bluff near Havana. One of them was the mounds below Havana; the other was the mounds above Havana. The Indians regarded the burying places of their dead with great reverence, and any desecration of them would cause great hostility among them, and the perpetrator, if found out, would be severely dealt with. There was a little circumstance connected with this that we will relate and that nearly terminated in a tragedy. John N. Ross, a brother of O. M. Ross, who had been residing in Kentucky for a couple of years, was married to the daughter of a wealthy slave holder of that state, and as he was a Quaker and strongly opposed to slavery, he and his young wife moved to Illinois and stopped at Havana and bought eighty acres where the bluff and the river came together, upon which the two mounds stood. The mounds stood about fifty feet apart, and John Ross and his young wife were well pleased with the location for a dwelling and determined to build a house on it between the two mounds on the river, which would give them a handsome view up and down the river. He had a carpenter at work on it and they had it almost finished when a company of hunters and trappers came over from Fulton county and commenced to dig and desecrate the mounds. It happened that seven years before one of the chiefs had lost by death two of his children, a son and daughter, and they had been buried on the north mound. It was the custom to bury a number of articles with their dead male Indians, such things as a tomahawk, a large knife and a bow and arrow, and with the squaws many articles of wearing apparel, silver bracelets, strings of beads, etc.

These hunters dug open the graves of this young Indian and his sister and carried away all they wanted, and when the old chief found out that his children's graves had been desecrated and many of the articles buried with them had been carried away also, his anger was aroused to the highest pitch. He gathered together a number of the principal Indians and was ready to start out on the war-path, but he came to Havana to see O. M. Ross about the matter, with whom he had always been on friendly terms. Ross told him he would do all in his power to find out the perpetrators and have them brought to justice. It was found that the men lived on the other side of the river and that the people on the Havana side of the river had nothing to do with it. They became more reconciled, but if the men could have been found who desecrated the graves, they would, in all probability, have been killed by the Indians for what had taken place. J. N. Ross became so alarmed, that his wife was not willing to live in the place, so he moved back to Kentucky, and the place was never occupied until the Indians moved out of the country.


Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



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